Imagine an NFL team handing its playbook over to the opponent before a big game. That’s how Kyle Busch feels about other drivers now having access to how hard he brakes into a turn, his acceleration point, and other relevant data pertaining to how he quickly gets around a track.
NASCAR is releasing additional data to teams this season, a change some drivers see as a positive while others are less than pleased. The information being shared includes throttle, braking, steering, and RPM data and is obtained from the electronic control unit that is part of the electronic fuel injection system in each car. The data is collected anytime a car turns a lap on the track regardless of if the session is practice, qualifying, or a race.
“I’ve spent 13 years in this sport to figure out how to drive a race car to make it go fast and then do the things that I do to make it go fast and win championships, and now you are going to hand all of that to a young driver on a piece of paper and they are going to figure it out as long as they know how to read it,” Busch said. “Sure, they still have to do it but at least they know what I’m doing so if they study that enough they will know how to beat me, or I will know how to beat you.”
As part of several cost-saving measures implemented to curb excessive spending within the industry, NASCAR elected to no longer keep key data private thereby allowing teams and drivers to see where the competition may hold an edge. Conversely, those teams that were regularly performing at a high level now have many of its secrets laid out for all to see.
Previously, teammates could see each other’s data, though that telemetry was not made available to those outside that particular organization. But while the data may not have been directly available to other teams, they were still gaining access to other teams’ data by scraping it off NASCAR.com RaceView feature, which offered a service to fans interested in seeing such things like how much speed a particular driver carried into a corner. Essentially, teams were hacking into the system to retrieve the data — an expensive and time-consuming task.
“Us driving a race car is our way of figuring out how to make a race car go around the track fast,” Busch said. “It’s not how we are driving our car at particular moments, it’s how we set up our cars.
“We look at it as proprietary, but NASCAR doesn’t. It’s like an NFL team giving the opponent their playbook.”
Busch is not the lone driver to take exception with the new policy. But although Kyle Larson agrees that data should be kept within a team, he contends that just because he may have access to the telemetry, it doesn’t mean he can effectively put it to use.
Larson points to Martinsville Speedway, a track he struggles at, as an example. While he can now see how Busch best gets around a track he’s won twice on, it doesn’t ensure he can replicate Busch’s speed. Variables that cannot be accounted for like different brake packages and setups can also have a significant impact.
“I get to look at Jimmie Johnson, and I got to look at Jeff Gordon and Chase Elliott at Martinsville, and I still suck at Martinsville,” Larson said. “… Everybody’s car is different, and everybody’s car reacts different. You can learn more oftentimes than not, but there’s still those moments where if your car is not driving like theirs, you can’t do what they’re doing.”